Predictors of New Onsets of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia: The Lifelines Study

Psychol Med. 2020 Jun 17;1-9.doi: 10.1017/S0033291720001774. Online ahead of print.

Rei Monden 1, Judith G M Rosmalen 1, Klaas J Wardenaar 1, Francis Creed 2


Author information

1University of Groningen, University Medical Center Groningen, Interdisciplinary Center Psychopathology and Emotion regulation (ICPE), Groningen, the Netherlands.

2Neuroscience and Mental Health, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.


Background: It has been claimed that functional somatic syndromes share a common etiology. This prospective population-based study assessed whether the same variables predict new onsets of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia (FM).

Methods: The study included 152 180 adults in the Dutch Lifelines study who reported the presence/absence of relevant syndromes at baseline and follow-up. They were screened at baseline for physical and psychological disorders, socio-demographic, psycho-social and behavioral variables. At follow-up (mean 2.4 years) new onsets of each syndrome were identified by self-report. We performed separate analyses for the three syndromes including participants free of the relevant syndrome or its key symptom at baseline. LASSO logistic regressions were applied to identify which of the 102 baseline variables predicted new onsets of each syndrome.

Results: There were 1595 (1.2%), 296 (0.2%) and 692 (0.5%) new onsets of IBS, CFS, and FM, respectively. LASSO logistic regression selected 26, 7 and 19 predictors for IBS, CFS and FM, respectively. Four predictors were shared by all three syndromes, four predicted IBS and FM and two predicted IBS and CFS but 28 predictors were specific to a single syndrome. CFS was more distinct from IBS and FM, which predicted each other.

Conclusions: Syndrome-specific predictors were more common than shared ones and these predictors might form a better starting point to unravel the heterogeneous etiologies of these syndromes than the current approach based on symptom patterns. The close relationship between IBS and FM is striking and requires further research.

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